Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter

What is wrong with me?

What is wrong with you?

What is wrong with us?

All of us sense that there is something wrong either with ourselves as individuals or with the society as a whole. We feel that something is missing or that we are going in the wrong direction. Even when things are going well we are haunted by the fear that our happiness is only temporary, that it will all be taken away from us. Or, when we have reached the level of success and prosperity we have worked so hard to achieve, we all of a sudden wonder if that's all there is. No one has a permanent answer or remedy for this unease which every human experiences. Politicians can offer us rules and regulations. Psychologists can encourage us to improve our self-esteem. The television tries to convince us that all we need is the latest fashion or gadget. But we end up in the same place, wondering what that "something more" is that our hearts are longing for.

The Bible has a different perspective on our problem and a certain answer. God's word teaches us that what is wrong with us and with the world is that our relationship with God is broken. Because we have sinned, the God who created us for himself is now a stranger. Our hearts ache for him, yet he is out of our reach. We spend much of our lives seeking a substitute for his love and mercy, but nothing else can take the place of an Almighty and Infinite God. And so we feel lost, unable to experience the fullness of joy and peace which our hearts were created to contain.

The Bible teaches us that what we need is salvation which is the forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of our relationship with God. Salvation is not just something we receive after we die and go to heaven, but a power already at work in our lives to transform our hearts. The Bible also teaches us that there is no other way to achieve that salvation than through Jesus Christ. Peter proclaims this boldly and clearly in today's first reading: "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." When we turn to Jesus and welcome him into our lives, the anxiety which burdens our hearts gives way to confidence and joy because in him we find the meaning of our lives and the pathway we are to follow. How does Jesus go about the transformation of our hearts and our lives?

First of all, Jesus gives us a sense of identity. In him we learn that we are daughters and sons of God. This is the wonderful truth which Saint John proclaims in today's second reading: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are." Because of God's great love, we grow in the sense of our personal dignity and worth. We no longer allow people to use us. We no longer accept cheap substitutes for God and his love. Only the real thing is good enough for us. We no longer accept the world's standard of worth and importance. We do not measure our value by how much we make, by how many possessions we have or by what neighborhood we live in. Rather, our sense of worth comes from knowing that we are loved by God, that we are his sons and daughters.

Not only does Jesus give us a sense of identity, he also gives us a sense of direction. There is a reason that Christians are called "followers of Christ." When we have an active, loving relationship with Jesus he becomes our leader. Accepting Jesus into our lives means surrendering ourselves and our future into his hands. Jesus becomes our shepherd. We listen for his voice to direct us. We are no longer trying to do things "our way", but we look to Jesus and his word to guide our choices.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd and that we are his sheep. Unlike other shepherds who watch the sheep just to earn a day's pay, Jesus loves the sheep and is willing to give his life for them. He does not run away when the wolf or the thief appears. Rather, he will fight to protect them even if it means losing his life. That is why we are willing to entrust our lives to him. Even when the way he is calling us to follow is difficult. Even when the choices he is asking us to make do not seem to make any sense. At those times we remember the great love he showed us by accepting death on the cross to free us from our sins. We know that he will make everything work out for our good and that he will always protect us come what may. There are times when we feel lost. There are times when we realize that the choices we have made have only brought us misery and pain. There are times that we just don't know what to do. At those times we must turn to Jesus with confidence and entrust our lives to him. Only by following in the way of love he marks out for us can we hope to achieve any measure of serenity and fulfillment in our lives.

Our Risen Lord and Good Shepherd will once again give himself to us in the form of bread and wine as food for our journey. At every Mass he never fails to offer himself to us just as he did when he offered his life for us on the cross. As we receive the Eucharist today, let us surrender control of our lives to him and ask him to teach us to listen for his voice. Let us ask him for the faith to leave behind the cheap substitutes for love we have been clinging to even though they have only brought us failure and disappointment. Finally, let us ask him to give us the courage to lay down our lives for others so that they too can know the joy of being counted among the sons and daughters of a loving God.

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